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5 Popular Myths about Long Distance Bicycle Touring

trueorfalseRecently Chris from Vermont e-mailed us about our bicycle tour.  Before signing off he wrote, “I would love to do what you’re doing, but at my age it’s just not possible.”

This type of email is typical.  People writing to say they would like to set off on a bicycle tour but can’t for any number of reasons.

Now, I don’t know Chris from Vermont’s age.  Perhaps he’s pushing 90.  Maybe he really is too old for a long-distance bicycle tour.  But more likely than not, he just thinks he’s too old.  He’s bought into a myth about bicycle touring.

There are all sorts of myths about bicycle touring flying around.  Here are a few of my favorites:

French retirees Andre and Danielle take on South America.Myth 1: Long distance adventure Bicycle Touring is only for the young. Sure we all know granny and gramps can trundle around Europe on bicycles.  Pedal 40 kilometers, plop down at a café for a leisurely lunch and then check into a comfy B&B for the night.

But retirees bicycle touring in 3rd world countries?  Camping in the wild?  Cranking out 100+ kilometers per day.  Not possible most would say.

Wrong.  Danielle and André, a French couple well into their 60s, passed us up as we were fighting headwinds on our way to Ushuaia.  They camp.  They ride through developing countries like Peru and Bolivia.  And they collect social security.  Who says adventure bicycle touring is just for the young?


Myth 2:  You must be super-fit to set off on a bicycle tour.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  If you’ve got two functioning lungs, you can go on a bicycle tour.  The beauty of bicycle touring is that you can start out slow and build up gradually. There’s no need to be able to crank out 100 kilometers on your first day.  In fact, many bicycle tourists are comfortable puttering along at around 60 kilometers per day.


Olivia and Bhinti from on what they call a 'turtle tour' around the world.  Cycling slowly and loving it.

Olivia and Bhinti from on what they call a 'turtle tour' around the world. Cycling slowly and loving it.

Myth 3:  Bicycle Touring requires a major investment in gear.  Nah.  That’s just not true.  Way back in 2004 when Eric and I set off on our very first bicycle tour, we looked more like a couple of homeless people on bikes than serious cyclists.

I was riding an old Schwinn we’d picked up at a garage sale, Eric had a mountain bike he’d bought back in the 80’s, and instead of sleek-looking Ortlieb panniers, we’d strapped a backpack on the rack.


We were a sight.  But it didn’t matter.  We made it 767 kilometers through Alsace and had the best vacation ever.

It’s easy to fall prey to all the marketing hype around high-tech gear.  Sure, I love my sturdy, long-suffering Koga Miyata.  When it rains, I’m thankful for waterproof bicycle bags.

But could I bicycle tour around the world without all the great gear?  You bet.

Myth 4:  A major long-distance bicycle tour is expensive. Unless you’re keen on walking, Bicycle Touring is the absolute cheapest way to travel.  Since we set off in June 2006, our total expenditure has been around $55,000.  Total expenditure.  Gear, bicycles, airline tickets, insurance, healthcare costs, food, clothing, accommodation, electronics, EVERYTHING.

$55,000  for two people in four and a half years is really not a lot of money.   That’s less than the average US family income for one year.  And we were travelling.

When you break it down, that’s $500 per month per person.  Probably what some of you fork over each month in car payments.

Admittedly, we are rather frugal.  There are times when I could do with a little more comfort.  But the point is, if you don’t mind camping and couchsurfing, self-catering and keeping an eye on your budget, a long-distance bicycle tour is probably within reach for you.**

Myth 5:  You must be ‘tough’ to set off on a bicycle tour. We cyclists like to write a lot about how much we suffer on bicycle tours.  We whine about headwinds and climate extremes.  We go on and on about steep mountain passes and bone-jarring backroads.    We spin tales about cycling through the desert lugging around a week’s water supply.

While there is some truth to all this talk of suffering, a lot is pure hyperbole (the winds in Patagonia excepted).

Bicycle touring can be as comfortable as you want to make it.  If you’ve got a generous budget, there are plenty of companies that will organize a tour for you and even arrange for your luggage to be transferred from one destination to the next (check out Biciklo for lots of listings).

Southeast Asia is a popular bicycle touring destination because distances are short, food is delicious and towns with comfortable guest houses are so close together that carrying a tent is optional.

Finally, if you’re not too proud to hop on a truck, suffering is almost always optional, no matter in what part of the world you choose to cycle.


Sometimes it's best just to swallow your pride and hop on a truck.

Sometimes it's best just to swallow your pride and hop on a truck.

What’s your opinion?  Do you agree/disagree with these popular bicycle touring myths?  Maybe you’ve got your own myth to add.

**disclaimer  “You” refers to the average reader of this blog–an English-speaking individual living in the US or Western Europe.  Obviously, for those living in the developing world even $500 is a huge sum of money.

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41 Responses to 5 Popular Myths about Long Distance Bicycle Touring

  1. Eduardo
    Eduardo September 1, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    Hello there!

    I’m 55yo and begin to planing a bike trip with my 22yo son.
    Ok, I’m not that athlete but have been running about 15miles/week.
    The trip main idea is to get on a beautiful place, with not so big ramps/mountains.
    That said, the two very first places that come in mind are: 1) Provence – France; 2) Coast line(SF to LA) – California – EUA. 200 to 300 miles
    Something about 25 mile first and second days, growing to 30-35 on the days after. Autumn or Spring will be a must.
    We’ll have the support of my wife who will be on the road, by car.

    I’m here to ask you about some help, in order to get some insight on it.
    So, please, fee absolutely free to contact, any information is very welcomed!!!

  2. Terri
    Terri September 25, 2015 at 7:36 am #

    Doing my research for the long awaited RTW trip on my bicycle – will set out in Spring 2016 (or when my very geriatric dog shuffles off). My guru is Ann Wilson (CGOAB) who turned 60yrs on her trip. She pushed her bike up hill and went ‘wheeee’ down the other side. That’ll be me! I’m 58yrs and have all the gear – tested it out and champing at the bit. Love your very helpful website – thanks.

  3. Rob Bennie
    Rob Bennie October 15, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

    Hi There, I couldn’t agree more. My wife and I have been cycle touring since our twenties and are now retired. During our nearly 40 years of touring we have heard all the lines above against touring and more, especially in regard to touring with kids. We have exploded all the abovementioned and others myths – not safe in the 3rd world, can’t do it with children, dangerous to ride in big cities, etc, etc. With our kids we cycled and camped our way around France with a 1 year old in a trailer, around Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg with a 2 year old in a trailer and a 4 year old on a tandem, across eastern Europe shortly after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc with a 6 and 8 year old on the backs of our tandems, around Turkey during one of the Kurdish uprisings with the boys now 7 and 9 on the tandems and from Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal via Everest Base on mountain bikes when the boys were 11 and 13. It is a cheap, rewarding way to travel. You have a wonderful opportunity to meet the locals, especially with kids. You experience the country and all its warts (riding in rain, snow, heat, bugs) and highlights like no tourist riding in a train or traveling by car ever would. If you are not in the best shape, work up to the Rockies, Alps or Himalayas slowly – ride yourself into shape on the easy stuff first. Do some practice rides with your gear to figure out how to pare down your weight and decide what you really need and don’t. And most importantly, ignore everything those naysayers who never leave the safety and comfort of their own homes say and JUST DO IT! If I can, anyone can.

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